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View Full Version : Making sails v/s Buying sails



MICHAEL S
12-18-2003, 09:50 PM
This is a great forum - I want to thank everyone for their plentiful and informative responses to my begginers questions. I am building my first boat (Shellback Dinghy) and can buy a premade sail for approx. $325 plus shipping. I have found a source for a sail kit for $225 including shipping. Is a $100 saving worth the effort? I have a standard type sewing machine - the kit maker says no problem - what do you think?

JimConlin
12-18-2003, 09:57 PM
To me, the kit sounds seriously overpriced. My wife was once in the sailmaking business and at that time the cost of materials was well under half of the selling price of the finished sail.

Venchka
12-18-2003, 10:08 PM
Get a quote from Grant Gambell and Brad Hunter at Gambell & Hunter Salimakers, Camden, Maine. GOOGLE can find them.

I have bought sails from them twice. They do great work at a very fair price. $7.77/sq. ft. made from Hayward cloth, hand finished rings, leather corners and a really nice synthetic manilla for the reef nettles.

Gambell & Hunter (http://www.gambellandhunter.com/gallery.htm#gallery)

To answer your question-No. You can't make as nice a sail as a professional.

[ 12-18-2003, 10:26 PM: Message edited by: Venchka ]

Bob Cleek
12-18-2003, 10:22 PM
I love it every time this question gets asked. Does your wife make your suits? I doubt it.

The merit to making your own sails depends on how good a tailor you are and whether you want to do it for the fun and sense of accomplishment, presuming you CAN do a decent job at all. It's not a sensible way to save money. I bill my clients $325 an hour for my time and to them it's worth it. If I wanted that dinghy sail, I'd be making it myself for the fun of it, not to save money. On the other hand, if I didn't have $325 and I really wanted to sail, maybe there's no option but to be making it myself. Of course, I just finished restitching the full boat cover on my 25' sailboat and it was more fun in the beginning than it was towards the end of the job, so I'm that kind of nut... go figure.

If you've never made your own sails, which is a lot trickier than making boat covers and such, owing to the shape you need to work into them, I'd say buy the sail. You'll get the value out of it in the end. That's not a lot of money for a decent sail and, if it doesn't fit, you can send it back. Who are you going to complain to if your homemade one sucks?

[ 12-18-2003, 10:28 PM: Message edited by: Bob Cleek ]

JimD
12-18-2003, 10:29 PM
Just today I received in the mail a Sailrite sail kit for a similar sized boat. I bought the kit because I want the experience of sewing my own sail. But by the time the head scratching, stitching, and grommetting is over I'm sure I will have made an economic investment far in excess of $100. So if the $100 is the issue then buy a ready made sail unless you have way more time than money. smile.gif

Bob Ketterling
12-18-2003, 10:48 PM
I finished a Pooduck this summer which is larger version of the Shellback. It also has a jib. I went through the same debate and ended up getting my sails from Dabbler and they did a great job. They had me measure the flex in the spars and factored that into the cut of the sails. I don't know how critical that is but I do know I am very happy with the sails.

L.W. Baxter
12-19-2003, 12:46 AM
Michael, "The Sailmaker's Apprentice" by Emiliano Marino is a good read, whether or not you make your sail. If you read it-- or one of the other books on the subject-- maybe you can more accurately gauge your interest in sailmaking.

Lots of good information in that book about how and why sails work, too.

--Lee

Todd Bradshaw
12-19-2003, 03:07 AM
The cost breakdown goes something like this: I just finished a 57 sq. ft. lugsail for a customer, fairly similar to the Shellbacks 55 sq. footer. The fabric cost me $102 at wholesale price, though I use more expensive fabric than that which the kit companies generally provide. I used four-ounce Hayward Egyptian Cream Dacron at about $10 per yard and even though the cut used (vertical) doesn't generate a lot of waste, it took every bit of a 10 yd. x 36" chunk (90 sq. ft.) to build it. You could subtract about 30% from the price by using standard domestic Dacron and possibly another 10% if you went with plain white. Bottom line on fabric at wholesale would be about $60.

By the time you add seam tape, thread, and grommets, my total cost went up to around $125, for a sail that sold for $410 (this doesn't count the cost of grommet setters, which can run nearly $100 each, though you can rent them from the kit people for a small fee).

I got the fabric Monday about noon and started the shape calculations and lofting that afternoon. I finished it last night (Wednesday) and shipped it out early this afternoon. It was a bit fancier construction than most kits, but still pretty basic with little or no hand-sewing. The initial drawings were done on the computer, but I don't have the $100,000 computer plotting and cutting system that they have, so I loft on the floor and cut panels and pieces by hand. My labor time was about 35 hours from start to finish and since I've done this a few times, I don't need to stop and ponder the process much on a small, fairly simple sail.

I would imagine that the design, lofting and cutting portions of my 35 hour labor total would probably add up to 4-5 hours. This is what you are paying the kit company to do for you and they do it quite well. The finished shape of most kit sails is excellent. This, and the price they charge for the raw materials combine to make-up the total kit price.

Unfortunately, that still leaves about 30 hours of crawling around on your knees assembling the sail - which is a pretty hard way to go if you're just trying to save 100 bucks - and I'll bet I can do it much faster than you will on your first sail. On the other hand, if you want to learn some basic sailmaking stuff or if you just want the satisfaction of making your own sail, it's more of a recreational activity and the savings don't matter much.

I would encourage any sailor to build a sail or two. Even a pre-lofted kit will teach them something about sailmaking and may make them better sailors. Some of us even enjoy it, but as a way to save money you would probably be better off spending your time up in the attic trying to find some old junk to sell on eBay.

Paul Griffin
12-19-2003, 07:59 AM
We sewed our sail from a sailrite kit. (135sg ft main and jib) The cost was way under half of what a sail loft was going to charge. We did it
mostly for the savings, but also because we wanted to learn how to fix the sails when the time comes. The issue I have with people who say
don't do things yourself to save money is how much do they pay themselves every hour they sit on their asses to watch TV? If you can save
yourself some money then why not do it? Sorry for being pissy about that but I don't get it? :(

Ian McColgin
12-19-2003, 08:04 AM
The first couple of sails I built would have made the wrinkled butt of a syphalitic hippo look good. But the two sails I've made so far for Grana and the one sail for Leeward have been very nice. I was instructed through Grana's sails by a sailmaker friend who I've also done rigging work for.

He has promiced never ever to help me again. To do so might damage our friendship.

So, it's good for the sould to make a sail. You'll never again complain about sailmakers overcharging. And you'll understand enough that you'll be that much more self-reliant.

I, by the way, have made my own cloths, especially back in the '70's when I was developing better forms of mountaineering gear but also would knock out the occasional 3 piece white denim suit . . .

Cost effectiveness is rarely the reason to make anything but it's lovely to say, "This I do with my own hands."

In sailmaking, it helps to be both anal retentive and obsessive-compulsive. The tolerances are very exacting, which is wierd on a slipery material.

Have fun.

Buddy
12-19-2003, 09:35 AM
Ditto what these guys have said. If you're going to get deep in the sport, making a small sail will be a valuable"course of instruction" that will serve you well in evaluating the quality ( and condition of wear) of every sail you buy. It will do wonders for your confidence in keeping your sails in good repair. IMHO, making the canvascovers and such on your boat makes economic sense too because of all the fitting that has to be done on your boat. Great sails you can buy through the mails. I've never built a sail that I thought exceeded what I could afford to buy. On a small boat I made myself, I like to say I made the sail myself too. With the kit, you're going to get good panel shapes out of the box and you won't have to find a gym floor to loft on.

TimothyB
12-19-2003, 10:00 AM
Jees. smile.gif

As Bob and others have said, no you cannot make a sail as well as a pro.

HOWEVER...

If you're interested in sails and making/fixing them then you should do it anyway! Get a few books, and here I think The Sailmaker's Apprentice is a fantastic one (I own it) and get stitching!!

If you don't care about sailmaking and just want a cheap sail, then shop around and find the best deal from a pro. Forget the kits.. they have been marked up too much and are for people who are interested in sailmaking.

If you don't care about sailmaking (much) and really need a cheaper sail, then make up a junk sail for your dink from polytarp and bamboo or aluminum tubing. Or just rough it and make a simple leg o mutton. Use polytarp until you get the hang of it, then get some sailcloth. Maybe you can find a used sail and recut it.

Ultimately, you will end up paying for the sail one way or the other if you want a fine, well finished sail of any type. Either in time or money. You have to decide which is the currency you want to use.

Good luck!

--T

MICHAEL S
12-19-2003, 11:37 AM
Thank you one and all,
As I suspected, it sounds like making my own sail would not be worth it from a money saving standpoint. And while being able to say I made it myself is important, I don't think my anal retention factor is quite high enough. Thanx for the sources to contact - I may do some price shopping.

JimD
12-19-2003, 11:53 AM
Yes, I can see where being anal retentive and ending up with a sail that looked like the wrinkled butt of a syphillitic hypo could lessen the enjoyment of your sailing experience :D

JimD
12-19-2003, 11:54 AM
Originally posted by JimD:
Yes, I can see where being anal retentive and ending up with a sail that looked like the wrinkled butt of a syphillitic hypo could lessen the enjoyment of your sailing experience :D Opps. Of course that should have read 'hippo' :eek:

Paul Griffin
12-19-2003, 12:47 PM
I'm going to stick my neck out but, we all have no problem building boats when we have never done it before. But we are all afraid of sewing sails? We will spend thousands on tools, tens of thousands on material for the hull, but we will not spend money on sewing sails? Shouldn't we all just get the pros do build us our boats?

MICHAEL S
12-19-2003, 01:03 PM
Paul, I have been a carpenter/cabinetmaker for going on 25 years. I built the model. I read the book. I do feel confidant about building the boat itself (especially with the great advice I am getting from all the folks here).

On the otherhand my sewing experiece is extremly limited. If I am copping out by not making my own sail then so be it.

Bob Cleek
12-19-2003, 03:18 PM
I agree with Paul. I'd just LOVE to have Gannon and Benjamin build me that 46' Giles Dyarchy cutter I've been lusting for over the years. Out of teak or angelique, of course. NO ferrous metal at all... nothing but bronze. Lead keel. BUT... ahem... there are limits. LOL

Where any of us draw the line on doing it ourselves is really a function of our own skills. Traditional boatbuilding is really an amalgam of just about every craft practiced by skilled tradesmen in the mid nineteenth century, including several which don't even exist anymore. Some of us are long on woodworking skills, some on metal work, some on sailmaking, or whatever. In order to get the best all around result on our boats, the trick is knowing our own particular limitations. Perhaps its a gender-bias thing, but generally, guys in our society these days aren't as strong on sewing as they might be on woodworking or metal fabrication. How many guys took sewing instead of wood shop? So, you have somebody who does it really well do the stuff you can't do a workmanlike job on yourself. Nothing to apologize for in that. In the old days, despite what LFH would like us to believe, nobody did it all. The union caulkers caulked and the union plankers planked and the union smiths wrought metal. Maybe that's why in his writing L. Francis is always taking digs at the unions and the Democrats! LOL

Venchka
12-19-2003, 03:31 PM
Flaws in sails can't be fixed with thickened epoxy or a block plane or hidden with paint. I also wouldn't be a bit surprised if some very competant sailmakers felt intimidated by boatbuilding.

NormMessinger
12-19-2003, 03:38 PM
Opinions are like finger nails. We all have several often on the same topic....

My wife does not make my suits. I have made myself one, my son one, my wife more than one. They don't look all that bad, either.

Now as to sails: Michael, you don't say if the kit provider was Sailrite or not. They do all the cutting and marking. You stitch along the lines they provide. It is easy. I saved the price of an inexpensive zigzag sewing machine for the 55 sq ft sail for a MacGregor sailing canoe. The little Singer Featherweight I used for the suits, sleeping bags, tent, etc. would not zigzag. The jib, stays'l and tops'l for Prairie Islander were Sailrite kits. They don't look or act all that bad, either. I had a sailmaker in England make the mains'l.

Someone, wise beyond his years once said, "I'm going to stick my neck out but, we all have no problem building boats when we have never done it before. But we are all afraid of sewing sails? We will spend thousands on tools, tens of thousands on material for the hull, but we will not spend money on sewing sails? Shouldn't we all just get the pros do build us our boats? "

If you are handy with you hands, you can sew. And on your home made sail you can hand sew the grommets, leather the corners and do other such things that I'd bet are not included in the price for the finished sail you were quoted.

So there!

Oh, just to ramble on: I got quotes from all the advertisers in WoodenBoat magazine for Prairie Islander's mains'l. The price ranged from $700 something to over $2,000. How's a dunce in Nebraska supposed to evaluate them. So I went with a highly recommend maker who gave me an excellent sail right in the middle of the quoted range. I didn't know about Todd's business at the time or I'd have given him a shot at it to. Hint hint.

Todd Bradshaw
12-19-2003, 03:40 PM
Gender-bias? Is that anything like my assumption that lawyers are crooks and my observation that they are often among my worst customers when it comes to paying their bills on time. Why is it that they usually remember to come pick-up their sails but forget to bring their checkbooks so that they can pay for them, yet they still expect to take them home? :D

Sewing sails is like driving a car. You step on a pedal for speed control and guide something straight with your hands. Why would women be any better at it than men? Gee, I think it's my knees that are starting to look like the wrinkled butt of a syphallitic hippo... They're actually at the point where it's about time to start thinking about another career (again) or get back in the canoe/kayak business.

The thought did cross my mind last night that most of the folks on this forum wouldn't think twice about building a mast for their boat - even if they had never done it before, yet sailmaking seems unnecessarily shrouded in mystery.

Sail kits aren't cheap, compared to just the price of raw materials, but I think they are still a very good value. The plotters are incredibly accurate and the software linked to the plotter can accurately address factors that can only be estimated with traditional lofting. These systems take nearly all the mystery out of the process and the tasks becomes one of assembly only - "Tape part A to part B and sew it". It boils down to just following the instructions which come with the kit. If your machine is up to the task and you can sew a reasonably straight line there is no reason that the finished sail's performance or durability should be any worse than that from most professional sail lofts. It may not be quite as neat, but there is even a possibility that the shape could in some cases be better, as could the reinforcing.

A beginner has at least a ten-fold-better chance of producing a good sail from a kit than when armed with just a roll of fabric and a even the best books on sailmaking. Re-cutting an old sail usually lowers your odds of success even more. The fabric is no longer as strong or as stable and re-cutting is best done with enough sailmaking knowledge to accurately assess the cut and construction of the original sail and which parts will best translate into the new design.

Whether it's a kit or from scratch, neatness does count and everything is right on the surface with no place to hide, just as the woodworking on your mast will be after those five coats of varnish. So it's good to be your own best critic. I don't know whether I'm anal-retentive or not - but I am picky as hell, which is why I put every stitch in my sails myself. Nobody in their right mind would want to work for me, just ask my wife!

The parts of the process that really are difficult and which do involve years of practice and experience are the design phase and fancy hand-sewing. Kits take care of the design part before you even open the box. To just build a sail or two, it's hardly worth trying to learn all that stuff on your own.

If you want to hand-sew professional quality corner rings, cringles, roping, etc. you can plan on about five years of mediocre-looking ones before they really start looking good. Even so, 98% of the folks working in sail lofts today can't sew a pro-quality traditional ring because other, faster, easier methods can now be substituted and hand-sewing has become more of a cosmetic option.

If I could charge what Cleek charges per hour doing something else, I wouldn't make my own sails either (well.... actually I would because I'm so picky and I enjoy it - but I'd do it late at night when my customers were all sleeping). But even for us lesser-paid folk, I still think the experience of building a kit is something that's best done because you think you'll enjoy the process, rather than to save money, especially on a dinghy sail where the cost savings isn't all that much.

Paul Griffin
12-19-2003, 03:41 PM
Michael

My comment wasn't aimed at you. Sorry. It's just at the idea that we can all struggle through building a whole boat, but we can't get through
sewing sails. And I'm sure that most of us "guys" have someone that could help. Whenever the idea comes up here about someone doing it
themselves everyone says leave that to the pro's? When you are out in the big blue, were will the pro be to help you fix your sails then? I just
think that we will accept our own mistakes during the building of the hull, I'm sure that we have all made some, but we can't when it comes to
the sails? Sure the pro's will be faster at sewing, but they will also be faster at building the hull. I just think that it's something we should support more.

MICHAEL S
12-19-2003, 05:38 PM
Thank You All, my original question was prompted out of ignorance. I am ignorant no more!
Or at least a little less so.

I do believe I could make a mighty fine sail if I had to. After all a sewing machine is just another tool.
And we all like tools don't we.

Todd, I may reconsider making my own sail after reading your posting, thank you.

My decision not to make a sail is not only predicated on my sewing abilities (I can sew reasonably well)
and any money savings but also on my space to do it in. I have a great but usually very dusty
shop but do not have a very suitable area for sailmaking. Of course if I keep spending my time
talking on the internet instead of getting my work done maybe Spring will come and I can set up a
sailmaking shop on my deck.

At any rate I should probably build the damn dinghy first anyway!?

Paul, No worrys.

NormMessinger
12-19-2003, 05:53 PM
What's wrong with using the dining room table with extension into the living room if necessary? That where I made mine.

Steve Lansdowne
12-19-2003, 08:29 PM
If you're in it for the fun of producing your own vessel, I'd opt for the SailRite kit. It teaches you something as you sew your own, and any decent zig-zag machine can do this. I did my own Whisp sail and just ordered another for my Wee Rob. To me, that is part of the fun. A professional might do a better job, but yours will be plenty decent.

Don Bailey
12-19-2003, 11:43 PM
Michael,
I built the Poo Duck skiff which is a larger Shellback. I wanted do everything. I got the sails from Sailrite as a kit and it was very easy.
The main took 7 hours over 2 evenings to sew on a standard zig zag sewing machine and it is bigger than a Shellback sail. My wife did the sewing and I fed the material through the machine. You will need space with a table in front and behind to hold the panels as they go through the machine. The pre-cut panels are stuck together with double sided take that they provide before sewing. You sew 2 panels together, stick the next one on, roll it into a tube and sew the next one. The sails look professionally made and work very well.
Give it a try, you can't go wrong. Don Bailey

Todd Bradshaw
12-20-2003, 01:42 AM
As far as space goes, more is better and makes the process of getting the sail through the machine at various angles less of a battle, but especially with pre-lofted pieces, you can actually build sails which are bigger than the room. When we first moved to Madison about eleven years ago, we had to find a place to rent for a few years with a big room to work in and space outside to put five boat trailers without looking like a junk yard. I worked in the living room, which was 12' by 22' and had wall-to-wall shag carpeting. All the floor-work, taping, cutting etc. was done on a loose sheet of luan plywood underlayment and I had 2' wide troughs for infeed and outfeed attached to the sewing machine stand.

Back in those days, Sailrite offered plotting services for professional sailmakers. I could order a couple rolls of fabric from my suppliers, draw up a plan and plotting instructions, send them off and they would send back the pre-cut pieces and the excess. If I was planning on making more than one of a particular sail or doing something unusual with the panels that the computer couldn't completely plot (like corner patching built into the sail panels - see jib clew on attached photo) I could get the plot done on pattern-maker's Mylar instead and trace pieces off onto the real fabric myself.

I built several big, expensive radials that way, most of which I never got to see in their entirety until they were done and could be taken outside and spread out. Among them were the main, Genoa and drifter for our trimaran.
http://www.imagestation.com/picture/sraid28/pd77245b0abeb29c99fe3b2a5d946e446/fd6533a9.jpg

Avoid concrete as Dacron will pick-up every possible speck of dirt from it, but wood is great, tile is good and even carpet can be dealt with. I also lofted out a small spinnaker on the floor of our Pullman kitchen and painted a Hobie Cat in the living room. It pays to have an understanding wife.

Ian McColgin
12-20-2003, 10:01 AM
For layout, it's hard to match a nice large parquette floor.

I was able to lay down Grana's jib and foresail on a church meeting hall floor. The parquette was incredibly exact, so I had what amounted to a large bit of graph paper to work on. They did not mind pin pricks. I cleaned waxed and buffed the floor before starting. Layout is a clean process anyway, just dustmopped after. Added a wee bit for the alter fund and a little more for the sexton.

The fun part was watching my sailmaker-guru lay out the line of maximum draft. We had the rough panels laid out flat with the perimeter set with pins and string. We measured where it should be at each seam. But then he faired the line with a bit of lank string that he'd kind of flip to take the curve, squint a bit from various perspectives, and flip again till he had it where he liked it. He happened to have learned that way at Ratsey and likes it better than using a batten.

Once you have cut panels, you can make a sail in fairly confined space if you think it out, but it's nice to have at least one direction that's about twice the length of your slongest seam. I've been known to make ramps out opposing windows for larger projects.

The thing that's hard to understand from the books is the feel of the material. My guru has a wonderful shot of the old days in the Ratsey loft where the seam to be worked on is hanging about waist high and a gang of men are stitching away by hand. Just getting the fabric to cometogether that way pretty much evens up the stretch on each side of the seam, especially with canvass.

Everyone uses doublesided tape and staples to tack the seam together for stitching nowadays. You'll want to get a feel for how to pull the cloth so it works, especially if you're using something like Oceanus that has a bit of streatch on the bias.

Some parts are easy to blow. I over stressed the tabling on the leach of my jib and ended up with a big cup I had to correct. I hate pulling stitches.

imported_Steven Bauer
12-20-2003, 11:16 AM
I thought I should chime in here since I'm the customer that Todd built the 57 sq. ft. standing lug sail for that he posted about near the top of this thread. When I built my skiff I wanted to do everything myself. So I ordered the Sailrite kit. My wife is a quilter and sews all kinds of stuff and she said she would sew the sail with me. But we were both sort of intimidated so the kit sat in the box for a long time. We did finally build it and it came out fine but even with all the plotting done by Sailrite it's still a lot of work. It took quite a few evenings and we moved all the furniture out of the dining room and it was a big project.
So for the Iain Oughtred ELF that I'm building with my son and hope to launch in the spring I didn't want to have the sailmaking part of the process drag on and hold us up. So for his upcoming 14th birthday we ordered the sail made by a real Professional. Todd. An autographed copy of Todd's book will be included. I haven't seen it yet since it's somewhere in the mail system, but I keep checking the front porch. :D After he gets his sail, Jan 3rd, I'll post some pictures so you can all see some of Todd's work.

Steven

[ 12-20-2003, 11:18 AM: Message edited by: Steven.Bauer ]

Quickie
12-20-2003, 05:06 PM
Of course you can make your own sails .....and you should. Sail Rite are the best in my opinion. Will make you self sufficient too when you are "out there" with no overpaid, overpriced sailmaker to help you out. Don't order long distance cruising canvas either unless you want to motorsail everywhere when the wind gets light. Go one size heavier for sure but don't order that long distance stuff unless you are a dunce and dont look after your sails or know how to repair them (which is of course why you should make your own)or you are going to go sail with the Carr's year round in South Georgia (not a bad idea!). Go for optimuim cut and a fine entry. Don't get full battens either, thats for twits who read the so called cruising/sailing magazines and believe all the advertising hype. You wanna be able to reef on any point of sail and not get battens caught and ripping, as they will I assure you. Battens are a Sailmakers Loft best friends, like teak decks are to a boatyard.
Like most things in Sailing there is a lot of mumbo jumbo BS spoken. You learn the work by doing the work and it 'aint half as hard as people make out.

[ 12-20-2003, 05:10 PM: Message edited by: Quickie ]

Todd Bradshaw
12-20-2003, 05:15 PM
It would be tough to stuff more mumbo-jumbo or B.S. into a paragraph than there was in that one...

Quickie
12-20-2003, 05:53 PM
Well Mr Bradshaw I guess you are a "Professional Sailmaker" eh? I Don't blame you for protecting your own "professional" brethren.
I am sure you are an experienced Sailor, sailed in all sorts of weather in a vairety of yachts with a variety of crew.
Personall I have been delvering yachts of all description across Oceans for 12 years and been in the sailing game since I was 5 years old.
I know what works and what doesn't and what is BS and what is practicable.
In my time there is only one group that talks more BS than "Professional Sailmakers" and thats Politicians.

Quickie
12-20-2003, 06:03 PM
Of course if the dude is only sailing a Shellback dinghy thats all the more reason to not waste money on a sail loft.

Meerkat
12-20-2003, 06:11 PM
Quickie; This is the first time I've ever seen Todd call anyone for BS. When HE goes to the trouble of mentioning it, I listen. I don't doubt his integrity either - if it was appropriate, he would speak against his interests if that was the right answer.

Anyway, moving on. I have a suggest with respect to first time sail construction: buy one of those polytarp sail kits (or get info on how to make polytarp sails, buy some polytarp and glue and go for it!). You get some (much?) of the feel of messing with acres of material, time on your knees and you end up with something that will sail your boat for awhile. If you like it and would do it again, then you can invest in the more expensive "pro" sail kit (and sewing machine if needed). If you don't like it, you're not out the money of the fabric kit and aren't potentially left with a half-finished sail that some loft probably won't want to finish for you at anything less than full labor $/hr if they'll take it on at all.

Just an idea...

NormMessinger
12-20-2003, 06:18 PM
Well it looks like it is settled then, eh, Michael. You'll be making a Sailrite kit with your wife's machine on the dining room table. Good decision.

Quickie
12-20-2003, 06:21 PM
First time Mr Todd has BSssss'ed someone eh? Probably because a lot of the people asking questions on here don't have the experience to question anyones opinion, have sweet naff all sailing experience out of their home bay, and are mostly dreamers.
Still opinions are like backsides. If someone wants to BS me then fine. Whatever turns your crank.

Meerkat
12-20-2003, 06:27 PM
http://www.woodenboatstore.com/store/images/325110.JPG
"Canoe Rig: The Essence and the Art Sailpower for Antique and Traditional Canoes" Written and Illustrated by Todd Bradshaw
280 pp., hardcover ISBN # 0-937822-57-4

How many books have you written?

[ 12-20-2003, 06:31 PM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]

On Vacation
12-20-2003, 06:38 PM
Originally posted by Meerkat:
Quickie; This is the first time I've ever seen Todd call anyone for BS. When HE goes to the trouble of mentioning it, I listen. I don't doubt his integrity either - if it was appropriate, he would speak against his interests if that was the right answer.

Anyway, moving on. I have a suggest with respect to first time sail construction: buy one of those polytarp sail kits (or get info on how to make polytarp sails, buy some polytarp and glue and go for it!). You get some (much?) of the feel of messing with acres of material, time on your knees and you end up with something that will sail your boat for awhile. If you like it and would do it again, then you can invest in the more expensive "pro" sail kit (and sewing machine if needed). If you don't like it, you're not out the money of the fabric kit and aren't potentially left with a half-finished sail that some loft probably won't want to finish for you at anything less than full labor $/hr if they'll take it on at all.

Just an idea...Full quote, full agreement, 100 percent. Quickie go away with your smart....comments. Some people in here are well versed in their field and opinionated in a great way. Some people that know no difference question and comment without knowledge of same. I choose to accept this alternative to your assault. Thanks Meerkat.

MICHAEL S
12-20-2003, 06:44 PM
Well sew bee it, I guess it is settled.

It will be loads of fun.

Yep. No doubt about it.

Or maybe after this posting I should write a book on the subject first?

:cool:

Todd Bradshaw
12-21-2003, 01:56 AM
Quickie, I've never found that sailing experience translates directly into knowledge about sailmaking. I know some great boat drivers who don't know squat about the construction and design of sails. Perhaps you're one of them because much of what you posted is just plain wrong. Unlike a lot of internet forums, if you come to this one and post unfounded or incorrect information, somebody (usually several somebodies) is going to catch you on it and your level of experience, though impressive, makes you a member of the group here, not someone above the group who can spout unsubstantiated opinions or incorrect information and expect everybody to believe it.

The sailors who do have a good general knowledge of sailmaking are those who have taken an interest in the craft, actually studied it a bit and who, for one reason or another, may have made some of their own sails over the years and had a chance to see how they worked. The information didn't flow into their brains by just spending time holding the tiller.

As for your post, the first chuckle I got was finding out that sailmakers are overpriced and overpaid. I'd be more than happy to switch hourly wages or annual incomes with most of my customers or other professionals that I deal with in day to day life, like my dentist. I've been making sails longer than he's been a dentist. I may even be a better sailmaker than he is a dentist, but I don't seem to have a huge house, swimming pool and 5 acre pond in my back yard like he has....curious?? You can think what you want about sailmakers and their value to society, but nobody gets into sailmaking for the money because it's not there. I figure I made about $8 per hour building Steven's lugsail. Out of that, I have to pay income tax, social security, utilities and the cost of having a work space, the price of my equipment and tools, health care, etc. I would have made more money working at MacDonalds and they probably have paid vacation and a retirement plan. Some aspects of the craft, like sail repair, pay better. I can buy a $10 chunk of fabric and turn it into $100 worth of small patches, but compared to the 45 minute appointment at my dentist last month to patch a couple small fillings for $500, I'm still in the minor leagues when it comes to making money.

Your comments on "cruising canvas" and cloth weight selection aren't very helpful since they are too vague to correlate to the variety of fabrics weights, constructions and weaves which actually exist. There is much more to fabric selection than simple cloth weight per sailmaker's yard. Lighter weights of Dacron made with high-tenacity yarns, specialized, non-balanced weaves for specific aspect ratios and sail types may actually be stronger, more durable and more stable than heavier grades of other weaves. Many of these values can be measured and fabric manufacturers list them in their catalogs along with charts showing what weights and weaves work best for specific sizes of boats and types of sailing (racing, cruising, club race, etc.) In addition, many cruising fabrics will have enhanced U.V. absorbers and mildew-cides built-in to help them survive longer out on the water. Racing or club-race fabrics often don't have these things and may suffer in a cruising environment because of it.

Sailcloth manufacturers also make various qualities of fabric. You may find half a dozen different 6 oz. Dacrons in a supplier's fabric line - some are economy fabrics, made to a specific price points, some are premium fabrics for performance or enhanced durability and others fall in the middle somewhere. Even they may be offered in various weaves for various aspect ratios and some are available in two or three different hands (firmness or stiffness). Firmer being more bias stable but less user-friendly when it comes to sail handling and often less adjustable in use by means such as outhaul and downhaul adjustments to influence or change sailshape. This firmness is another quality that is measured in pounds of bias stretch and listed in the specs. Anyhow, straying very far from the manufacturer's selection charts when it comes to cloth selection can be an expensive mistake, so even if you intend to build your own sails you might want to check with your nearest overpriced sailmaker and see if you can get some help selecting the proper fabric.

As it relates to this thread, it doesn't matter much since the sail for this dinghy will almost certainly be someone's 4 oz. Dacron and they are all intended for the same purpose, have similar bias stability, thread counts and weaves and will all do the job quite well. The fabric in a Sailrite dinghy sail kit will most likely be 4 oz. from Challenge Sailcloth or possibly Bainbridge International, both of which are very good fabrics.

"Optimum Cut" is not a specific term used in sailmaking, so it's hard to tell what your getting at there. The lugsail for this dinghy can be either cross-cut or vertically cut (most common) and either will work fine. Entry angle, on the other hand is a specific term used in sailmaking and various entry angles have specific applications that affect boat performance and handling. There is no entry angle which is best for all boats, but there are plenty of them which are wrong or ineffective on certain boats.

A fast, fairly easily-driven monohull may indeed benefit from a fine entry angle and when the sail trim is properly dialed-in, it may be what really puts it in the groove and makes it boogie. On a beamier, heavier boat or a small dinghy like this one, the hull is likely to be a bit slow (or need more power to generate good boat-speed) in most conditions to benefit from a fine entry angle. It would tend to make the sail trim and steering very touchy. When everything is just right, it might go quite well, but in a constantly changing wind/water environment it can be really annoying to sail and a constant battle to keep the boat going well and sailing smoothly. A steeper entry angle, even on a sail having the same amount of maximum draft and the same maximum draft placement, may be much more forgiving of small changes in wind speed, steering, heeling and sail trim, making it much more enjoyable and efficient to sail.

Surprisingly, once we go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and start looking at boats which accelerate and decelerate very quickly, like racing multihulls (which one might think would benefit from a fine entry - being easily driven through water and chop and capable of high speeds) we find that a somewhat fuller entry angle often allows them to sail through changes in windspeed, water conditions, apparent wind changes (as well as minor steering and sail trim errors) better and faster in the long run by smoothing-out the accelerating and decelerating effects of these changes.

On non-radial sails, entry angle is usually controlled by small adjustments made to the shape of seams striking the luff (broadseaming) or in the case of computer plotted cross-cut sails by cutting the tops and bottoms of the panels (where they will be seamed together) in specific curves. A vertically-cut dinghy lugsail generally has very few seams striking the luff and those which do are at a steep angle, so there is little possibility to even make adjustments in entry angle. What you get is a medium entry, which generally works pretty well. Cross-cutting the sail allows a bit more tweaking, but something in the middle of the range is still usually the best bet. In any case, suggesting that anyone making a sail go for a fine entry without doing their homework is a bad suggestion and may produce a great sail that doesn't work very well on that particular boat.

Battens: First of all, batten pockets are a pain in the butt to make and even worse to repair. Battens are a constant source of chafe and the damage that they do is seldom easy or enjoyable to fix. The idea that battens are a sailmaker's best friend is laughable at best and pure crap to those who actually know something about sailmaking. Battens are used for a specific purpose and usually because they seem to be the best way to accomplish certain tasks. I'm not the world's biggest fan of full battens on monohull cruising sails either, but there are reasons that some folks like them and in that context I don't have a problem with them. If their pockets are properly built and the battens properly installed, they may actually cause fewer problems down the line than shorter leech battens which are used just to support a roached leech. If you're tearing up your sails while reefing, you must be doing something wrong. Full battens can in some cases even make reefing on various points of sail and in varying conditions easier, both on the crew and on the sails - just ask the Chinese.

Here again, making some broad generalization as to what people should do about battens when making or buying their sails is both inaccurate and a demonstration that you don't posess enough technical information to substantiate your statement - combined with yet another jab at sailmakers whom you seem to think are padding their bills by trying to sell people battens that they don't need.

If you don't like the service you get from your sailmaker, find a different one. But the fact that their views and your's don't match is not because their trying to rob you, it's because much of what you seem to have deduced over the years about sails is either missing big chunks of data or otherwise flawed. I will agree with your first sentence. Michael might do just fine if he chooses to make his sail and Sailrite would be the best source for the kit.

If either of you want more information on the subject, Marino's "Sailmaker's Apprentice" Jeremy Howard Williams' "Sails" and Tom Whidden's "The Art and Science of Sails" are all excellent books as are those by Marchaj, if you really want the heavy-duty course. Jim Grant at Sailrite has a very nice series of small books he wrote on building various types of sails which show specific formulas for design and shaping the sail, how and where to apply them. They don't go heavily into theory, but you can build a pretty nice sail by just following the directions.

I have nothing against you Quickie, and wish you well, but there are a lot of really good sailors and boatbuilders who frequent this board and if any of us post misleading or incorrect information, we can be assured that somebody, somewhere is going to come out of the woodwork and nail us right between the eyes with the facts. That's one reason it's such a good forum and all adds to the collective good.

Looking at the length of this post, I think I just wrote another book. Somebody wake up Scot and see if he'll write me a check - us underpaid sailmakers need the money...

[ 12-21-2003, 05:20 AM: Message edited by: Todd Bradshaw ]

Meerkat
12-21-2003, 03:09 AM
Well Todd, after reading the above, if it's any consolation, when I get around to buying sails (and I WILL be buying them: I know my limits), if I can afford to underpay you ;) and if it's a sail you want to, or have time to build for me, you will have my business!

Todd Bradshaw
12-21-2003, 06:02 AM
At this point, it's more up to my knees than anything else. They really want out of this business big-time, and soon. Gee, and after 20+ years I was finally getting good at it...In many ways, this middle-age stuff really sucks (at least I hope it's still the middle). Build for three days and limp for ten is not much fun and is getting worse with every sail. I could try to get my helper to do more of the floor work, but every time a squirrel runs along the fence he loses his concentration.
http://www.imagestation.com/picture/sraid34/pbb1ddb6ddae5c6d50e63225becbd2594/fd3160f7.jpg

Ian McColgin
12-21-2003, 08:36 AM
It's an interesting fact that more sailmakers are good sailors than good sailors who are also good sailmakers. Probably because many in the sailmaking trade got into it to support their sailing habit.

Many are racers.

I know one guy on our coast who actually hates sailing except to race, never just goes out to fool around, and always first back at the club bar after the race. But he's a very fine boat handeler and a terrific skipper, though he's a bit of a screamer.

I'd not be surprised if most of the sailmakers who sail a lot mostly race or daysail, as it's quite hard to support a sailmaking operation on a cruising boat. The only folk I know who have done so have to be in a port a while to justify uncrating the machines and setting up a temporary loft. And even then, there's more money to be made doing boat canvass - cushines and biminis and such - than sails.

At anyrate, I never met a sailmaker who didn't have quite a lot to teach me. There are some better than others, but I've not run into the bad ones, though such no doubt exist. Having doe a bit of the work, they are not at all overpriced.

In my experience, both Quickie and Todd have some points on fully battened sails. I love mine. Nothing will turn a truck like Grana into a sports car, but the fully battened approach does get her up to something like an SUV.

Since I use the "LazyIans" I don't have a normal topping lift to bang against the leach, and the MarcoPolo gives room for a very high roach on all three sails as the backstay arrangement is unique. I have seen fully battened sails on boats with more conventional back stays and the boosted sail area is marginal at best.

Also, fully battened sails like to be held down at the clew - twist is a real enemy here. I find Grana sails better if I depower by allowing a bit of luff all along the sail rather than depower by letting the top fall off and having the bottom overtrimmed.

Everyone has had trouble with sails if they've enough miles under their keels. There are times when we look at a sail in shocked disbelief. That's more often the result of dealing the sails that are just manufactured for a lowest common denominator to equip the boat, not with sails from a good loft made with a particular use in mind.

I think it's the latter type that Quickie has in mind in his blistering overgeneralization of sailmakers, coupled with the fact that he appears to have generalized past his extensive sailing experience into assumptions about sail making.

Stitch on.

NormMessinger
12-21-2003, 09:29 AM
A tip of my hat to Quickie. Thanks, Mate. If you hadn't put a burr under Todds saddle he probably wouldn't have been motovated to provide us with that outstanding and detailed discussion of sail making. You've also given us a good lesson on how to enter a forum and have ones opinion given serious consideration, or not. You also gave us a pretty good idea of what you think of your own self and of others. I only wish you had given us some indication that your opinion should be taken as seriously as you take it.

Dave Hadfield
12-21-2003, 11:51 AM
Well all I can say is I wish my sailmaker worked at Todd's pace. Todd got the fabric on Monday and shipped the completed sail on Thursday. Sure it wasn't a very big one, but I've waited 4 months for a sail.

Last time I did indeed make a vow that I would buy a sturdy machine and give it a try before I'd go through that again.

Meerkat
12-21-2003, 12:46 PM
Todd; Have you ever tried those orthoscopic gel-filled kneepads that Sears et. al. are selling to gardeners, carpenters and carpet layers? Sears had one model that was indoor/outdoor with spiked "over-pads" for the gardening set.

Oh yeah, aspirin is the best OTC med for inflamed joints.

NormMessinger
12-21-2003, 04:01 PM
Oh, goodie. Let's play doctor.... And, don't just take the anti inflamitories for the pain. Keep them in your system to prevent the inflamation which leads to pain and more serious complications over time.

Art Read
12-21-2003, 06:09 PM
Great discusion! It belongs on Jim's "FAQ" page...

For what it's worth, speaking from the perspective of another long-term, career, "end user" of sails of all kinds, the LAST thing I wanted to do after having painfully taught myself how to build a little daysailer for my own use, was to learn a whole OTHER trade, from scratch, by trying to build my own sails. Having spent vast amounts of money on quality materials for the boat herself, and even more TIME putting her together, why should I deny her the best possible sails I could get? Having a boat that sails as well as possible really IS the whole point of this endeavor, no? And I KNEW from my own experience that the "best possible" sails weren't going to be my first attempts to make and design my own... Would you guys begrudge a home boatbuilder for not building the auxiliary outboard from scratch himself?

I've made a living, of sorts, sailing since 1979. That includes a winter as mate aboard a square rigger with a skipper who couldn't afford NOT to build his own sails. That meant we were always making up a new sail just to "keep up" with the attrition of tropical charter work. While I was aboard, we replaced the spanker, topgallant and had started on a main topmast staysail. All lofted on an abandoned tennis court and sewed up aboard... often under way. Since then I have also done quite a bit of repair to more "modest" sails while offshore with no supposedly "overpriced" sailmakers handy. (What I wouldn't have paid for one right then!) If I learned anything from any of this, it was how little I really knew about just what it is that makes that subtle difference between a well made sail and a disappointing "bag of wind".

It's kind of like the "Caulking" discussion going on right now on another thread here... While I spent more time than I care to remember under that same square rigger's hull in the shipyard helping with a refasting/re-caulking project, I don't feel competant enough in the skills involved to do more than offer "cautionary" advise to those contemplating a similar task. Caulking my own, wee, freshly planked hull was one thing... Taking on the repair of a large, elderly hull's seams is quite another...

When the time came to make the sails for my project, I was more than happy to pay, and to pay EXTRA, for quality materials and the custom handwork I wanted. And I had NO shortage of things to do getting the rig ready while those sails were being made. Same with the sail cover. I knew I COULD do it, but not as well, or as fast, as the woman who made it for me.

(I did however use her techniques as an example and an inspiration when I attempted, with SWMBO's tremendous help, to make up the cockpit cover. That alone, while adequate for it's purpose, has proven to me the wisdom of my decision! ;) )

If you WANT to build your own sails for the "experience" of it, by all means, go right ahead. I may give it try myself someday. But don't look at it like "just" another check-off item on the build list. It ain't.

almeyer
12-21-2003, 06:42 PM
Thank you all for the discussion. I'm in the same boat, so to speak, as Michael S. When I get finished with the boat, I'll start work on a Sailrite kit, and was bolstered by the discussion. While I'm building the sail I'll get used to the boat by rowing it awhile. Will build the oars too. Can probably buy the oars cheaper, but if cheap was the main issue I'd keep my fiberglass boat and wouldn't bother building a pretty boat. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I can build a glued lapstrake boat, I ought to be able to build a 75 sf lugsail. It won't be as nice as one done by Todd or another sailmaker, they've got a lot more practice than I do, but I'm not going for perfomance anyway. The pride of having done it myself and having something that looks a lot nicer - in my opinion - than what's on the water now will be enough.
Al

Meerkat
12-21-2003, 06:51 PM
Originally posted by NormMessinger:
Oh, goodie. Let's play doctor.... And, don't just take the anti inflamitories for the pain. Keep them in your system to prevent the inflamation which leads to pain and more serious complications over time.And, if you're a male over 50, it's good for your heart too! tongue.gif

NormMessinger
12-21-2003, 06:57 PM
I would not argue with a thing you say Art. You raised some questions, however. For the sake of the discussion, with regard to smaller non-racing boats we are talking about here :

Will just any ole professional sailmaker make the quality of sail you want? I got quotes ranging from $700 to $2000 for the mains'l for Prairie Islander. They can't all have been quoting the same quality, surely. Which leads to the question, how does one choose a sailmaker?

Next question: Can the computer that Sailrite uses cut out a sail that a good professional sailmaker can stitch together that would meet your standards? Todd seemed to suggest it would assuming he is a reasonably good professional sailmaker.

The smaller sails on Prairie Islander are Sailrite kits, sewn, I submit, exactly on the lines specified. The stitching is crookeder than an dog's hind leg but most are on the seam where they belong and tripled stitched. Does straight stitching make a stronger sail that preforms better? How many years of experience will I need before I could tell the difference? Will I live that long?

Now if I were set up to make an engine.... Steam maybe for starters?

Meerkat
12-21-2003, 07:04 PM
Personal opinion: a machine cut sail will be no better, and definitely no worse, than the skill of the sailmaker involved. AFAIK, the machine does not design the sail, it just ensures that the material is precision cut (that's what it does better than a human) and may ensure that seam allowances, bias etc. are taken into account.

Art Read
12-21-2003, 07:20 PM
Well, Norm, based solely from the pictures I've seen of "Prarie Islander", it looks like you found a good sailmaker! (I was impressed to hear you made the smaller ones yourself... I wouldn't have guessed that... at least from just looking anyway.) As for "how" to find a good sailmaker, well, it's easier for us that live in "sailing country". I just made it a point to notice boats similar to mine with sails that fit and performed well, and generaly just "looked right", and then found out who their sailmaker was. Word of mouth gets around pretty fast here too. It also helps that so many quality lofts are local so you can go for a visit and "feel 'em out". As for cost, I certainly could have paid even more for "high tech" sails that would have been totaly inappropriate. I could have paid less for "garden variety" machine made sails with stamped in grommets and plastic fittings that would have been awfull too. As for Sailrite's kits, I'm not familiar with them myself, but I've heard all the same good stuff here that you've heard. I think they probably make a pretty good product. It's puttting them together that worried me. "My standards" consist mainly of knowing my own limitations. I put the outcome of my sails success or failure all in the sailmaker's hands and relied on her experience based on her prior quality of work. I also took advantage of her expertise with some suggested, small "modifications" to the sail plan to account for differences in materials technology since Mr. Crowninshield drew it, as well as some personal preferences of mine. (I wanted a loose footed jib for example...) I'd have been a babe in the woods making those decisions on my own. Being as this is essencially a "one off", custom boat with which I have no previous experience and nothing really to compare her to, I'd probably have been just as thrilled with any nice looking gear on that first day's sail with SWMBO, and will probabably never know if a different sail might have been "better". (Especially if I keep passing most other boats out there! ;) ) So it's just easier for me "trust" in my sailmaker's skill than it would have been had I made 'em myself or bought 'em from some lowest bidder I'd never heard of before. That make sense?

It didn't hurt noticing that Lin and Larry Pardey had one of THEIR sails in the loft for "overhauling" while I was visiting either ;)

(By the way, that price range sounds pretty reasonable. I'd have been comfortable with anyone who fit into anywhere near the middle of that range myself. The loft I went with wasn't the MOST expensive... I suspect the higher bidders may have contemplated doing more involved handwork, but I was comfortable that she knew what I expected and I wasn't disappointed.)

[ 12-21-2003, 08:08 PM: Message edited by: Art Read ]

Phil Young
12-21-2003, 10:28 PM
Love that comeback Todd. I think though that Quickie is living up to his name, and has gone. No loss. Hope he's gone away wiser.

Todd Bradshaw
12-22-2003, 01:27 AM
Computer plotting sails is like other computer stuff in that what comes out is only as good as what goes into the computer, but I don't think there is any doubt that in many ways a computer can "design" a better sail than a sailmaker. The difference is in it's ability to do 3-D modeling and accurately re-create that shape from flat stock.

Traditional on-the-floor sail lofting is a modified two-dimensional process done with strings, battens and tape. The 3-D shape is then added by making specific small modifications as the panels are assembled over the lofting. Once they're assembled, the sail will no longer even lie completely flat on the loft floor, so any aspects which still need to be picked-up off of the lofting (which can be things as important as the final luff curve and corner locations) have to be done by approximating which parts of the sail now correlate to specific areas on the lofting. In addition, many of the shape-related decisions used to turn the 2-D shape into the final 3-D shape are estimates based on a few loose formulas and the sailmaker's past experience.

The computer, on the other hand, "sees" the sail as a 3-D shape, complete with factors like draft, spar bend and twist, which traditionally had to be estimated. It then covers this shape with flat panels, with their yarns pointing the proper directions and sends instructions to the plotter which cuts out pieces that fit exactly. It's as if I could make my calculations for draft, entry angle, twist, etc. and then get my floor to hump-up to that shape like a mold. I could then lay the fabric pieces over the mold, cut them to shape and essentially "plank" the sail. This isn't too far removed from what North is actually doing with their 3-DL line of high-end racing sails. Their computers also plot the in-use stresses on the sail and show how to align the load-bearing yarns to address them. They build the sail as a one-piece construction and yarns are applied one-by-one, if needed, by a guy wearing a harness and suspended over the mold.

When you combine 3-D modeling with the plotter's ability to cut perfectly straight lines and nearly flawless, exact curves, the computer becomes a formidable sailmaking tool and there aren't many sailmakers who wouldn't love to have one. But, in the process of feeding all the data and parameters into the computer there are still some variables which have to be addressed and somebody is going to have to make some decisions to apply all that technology in the best way possible for the boat, the sailor and the average sailing conditions.

If you order a kit, for example, there is usually a series of questions that they want you to answer: What kind of winds do you expect to do most of your sailing in? What are your typical sea conditions? How much sailing experience do you have? Club Racing? Hard-core racing? Cruising? Low-pressure day sailing? Crew weight? - and others. What may at first look like some sort of marketing survey is actually a user-friendly way to get answers from you which will help the programmer figure out what values to plug into some of the blanks in the program - like the aforementioned entry angle.

A good sailor who races aggressively on a fast boat may really like the performance offered by a fine entry and have no problem getting the most from it. A beginner who is not as skilled, as aggressive or as attentive to steering and sail trim may find the same sail very hard to keep in the groove and have much better luck, more fun and possibly better VMG with a more forgiving, deeper entry curve. Likewise, the main for a San Juan 21 that's sailed in light winds or on smaller lakes with small chop may be cut a bit flatter and different from one that has to push the same type of boat through big chop and heavier weather on Lake Michigan.

So even the most modern computer-aided sail design is still just that. The computer boosts accuracy, but needs help in making some decisions. Traditionally, sailmakers have had to think in three dimensions, but work in two. The sail has to be finished or close to finished before the sailmaker ever gets a decent look at it's 3-D shape. With the computer and it's ability to duplicate in cloth the sail that you are seeing, tweaking and rotating on the screen, the sailmaker has an opportunity to work in three dimensions. By the time he fires-up the plotter and starts cutting fabric, the design work and shaping is all done.

It also helps when building multiples and trying to get them all the same. It's no secret that in the past there were some class-racing sails which were better than others, even though they were supposed to be exactly the same. Computer design and plotting has helped even-out this playing field.

As you might expect, most of this technology has been aimed at the typical modern, Marconi sloop rigs. Most of the original programs couldn't do four-sided sails (gaffs, lugs, sprits). This has changed in the last few years, though most of the sailmakers who specialize in traditional sails are too small to be able to afford a computer/plotter system and they still loft the old way. Since the design and "planking" part of the process is only about 40% of the total job, buying a very expensive machine to do it would add monsterously to the cost of the project, so it just isn't worth it.

Art Read
12-22-2003, 03:00 PM
"Planking" a sail... What a wonderfully apt image! :cool: